Meet the Gay Syrian Refugee Leading Vancouver’s Pride Parade

July 26, 2016

By Sarah Berman, Vice |

Danny Ramadan knows that a lot can change in a year.

Back in 2011, he was living in Damascus, working to support other queer Syrians, sometimes housing them in his own apartment. “Of course that was all underground and secretive,” Ramadan told VICE. (Being gay is illegal in Syria, and Ramadan would face at least three years in prison if he was ever prosecuted in his home country). “I ended up being arrested, and I had to leave the country to avoid remaining in prison.”

A year later, he found himself in Beirut—out of the hands of Syrian authorities and removed from the country’s escalating civil war, but facing a different set of struggles as a suddenly displaced refugee. “I didn’t know I was going to leave Syria; I wasn’t planning on leaving Syria,” he said. “Nobody plans on becoming a refugee, ever.”

And then there was the leap between 2013 and 2014—a move to Canada, and a new life in Vancouver’s gay village. “I arrived here, and it was completely different than what I expected—100 percent different,” he told VICE.

As a teenager, Ramadan had waved a rainbow flag in the streets of Syria and later Turkey, where he says pride events were more like riots than parades. “Pride Istanbul was about demanding rights, was about folks coming down to the streets and protesting while police threw tear gas and water cannons at us,” Ramadan told VICE. “It was challenging and difficult… I chanted slogans in languages I don’t even speak… I kissed tons of boys in the pride over there.”

In contrast, Vancouver’s weeklong party was a new kind of trip. “Gay marriage has been around for ten or 11 years, rights for LGBTQ folks are more acknowledged by the public here, and it’s beautiful to see how folks are coming out and celebrating their life,” he said. “To me, it felt like a jump 20 years into the future.”

Next week will be Ramadan’s second time joining Vancouver’s pride celebrations and a lot has changed, even since his first time around the parade route. For one thing, Ramadan says this year he’ll be sitting up front with Justin Trudeau in a fancy car, waving like a queen. But this also marks the first time queer Muslim and South Asian groups are pulling out of the parade to protest police presence and the exclusion of people of color from the pride community—issues Ramadan cares deeply about.

In an open letter posted earlier this month, Black Lives Matter Vancouver (BLMV) asked that police not participate in the parade this year, echoing the demands of the group’s Toronto chapter earlier this month. When the members didn’t get a response, they said they would not be marching in the parade on Sunday. The queer Muslim group Salaam and the queer South Asian group Trikone are joining BLMV for an alternative march the following day, dubbed the Two-Spirit Queers, Trans, Inter-sexed, and Bisexual People of Color Pride March.

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